Converge responds: Reformation Day

Converge responds: Reformation Day

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2

Martin Luther was a Catholic priest who loved the word of God. He lived five centuries ago in Germany where as a priest, monk and professor of theology, he spent most of his time studying the Bible in order to help others understand it. In his study of scripture, Luther saw a great disconnect between the teachings of the Bible and the teachings and structures of the church of his day.

Luther rejected the idea that people could purchase a reduced consequence or remission of sin through the selling of indulgences. Luther believed that scripture taught that our standing with God could not be improved by works, merit or purchase. He held that right standing with God was the result of Christ’s work. His study of scripture also led him to the understanding that the Bible is the final authority for the believer and was not usurped or rivaled by any human authority or tradition – including church leadership or the papacy. He opposed sacerdotalism – the idea that acceptable sacrifices for sin require the intervention of a priest – and instead taught the priesthood of all believers.

In an effort to reform the church, Luther sent a list of 95 issues, or “Theses,” enclosed with a letter to Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz, in October 1517. Luther also posted the 95 challenges to the status quo on the door of All Saints' Church and other churches in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther hand-wrote the 95 Theses in Latin in order to address other leaders in the church and avoid controversy among ordinary people in the church. Yet it wasn’t long before friends who agreed with his views got copies of the handwritten letter and translated it into German. By 1518, print copies were published in German and soon copies of his 95 Theses spread all through Europe.

From these 95 challenges to the church of his day, today’s church finds one of the clearest articulations of several of our foundational beliefs:

Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)
The Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice for the believer and the church.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Sola gratia (by grace alone)
A believer is accepted by God without any regard for the merit of his/her works, but solely because of the gracious love of God.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24

Sola fide (By faith alone)
God's pardon for guilty sinners and declaration of right standing is granted to and received through faith alone, excluding all "works." This judicial pardon, or justification, is based solely on faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Solo Christo (by Christ alone)
Salvation is obtained through the atoning work of Christ alone, apart from individual works, and Christ is the only mediator between God and man.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12

Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)
The sole motivation for everything we do is the glory of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36

Luther’s study of God’s word changed how he thought church should be done and salvation should be viewed. Soon after this time, Luther translated the Bible into German so that ordinary Germans could read and hear the word in their own language. (It should be noted that St. Jerome had translated it into Latin a millennium earlier for the same reason). Ordinary people, having access to the truth of God in their vernacular, had a tremendous impact on both the church and the culture. Luther wrote hymns that led the way to singing and songwriting by congregations and congregants. He even got married, setting a precedent of clergy to marry. There were many other radical, life-giving changes in the church that were the results of Luther’s learnings.

Luther’s goal was reform, yet the established church saw his efforts at reform as a protest (thus the word “Protestant” is used to this day to describe this movement). His refusal to renounce all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor. Yet it was his boldness to trust the truth of scripture rather than the tradition of the church that led to the greatest Reformation our faith has ever experienced.

Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses. The date he nailed his challenges to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 1517.

Luther’s efforts put the church back on mission and on message. In the 500 years since, the Protestant church has emphasized the primacy of scripture, efficacy of grace, the necessity of faith, the fullness of Christ and the glory of God. Ordinary people have felt empowered by the concept of the “priesthood of all believers” to be the church and not just attend church.

For the last 165 years Converge has been on this same mission – to help people meet, know and follow Jesus. We do this by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. We embrace the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible and the centrality of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone in our doctrine. Our churches consistently guard against the tendency of "church" getting lost in routines and rituals and strive to minister in the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit. We also enjoy the blessing of many other teachings of Luther. Our ministry, like many other great modern church movements of our day, is a beneficiary of Luther’s reformation.

In light of this anniversary, I ask that all of us take time to commemorate this day by doing a few things:

  1. Reflect on God’s grace. Take time today to thank God for his all-sufficient grace in our lives. We have been declared righteous by God, not as a result of our efforts or merit, but solely because of our faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross.
  2. Repent of pride and self-sufficiency. The Bible says that God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Turn away from all thoughts of self-centeredness, self-promotion and self-righteousness and choose to live a surrendered life in God’s power and for his Glory.
  3. Renew passion for God’s word. Take time to open God’s word today and each day forward. The ability to have God’s word accessible and understandable is a gift that many around the world still don’t have. Pray also for the many peoples of the world to gain access to the Bible in their heart language.
  4. Re-examine ministry. Make sure that you are ministering in a way that acknowledges the priesthood of all believers, the authority of the Bible and the necessity of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
  5. Recommit to sharing the gospel. The Bible is clear in its message and mission. We have been made ambassadors of Christ in order to take this message to all people. Take time to pray today for your neighbors, coworkers, relatives, friends and classmates who may not know Christ and ask God to embolden you and to open a door for the gospel in your relationships. In doing so, you will help fulfill Christ’s purpose of the church.

I hope you will join me on this day in celebrating God’s goodness to all of us!

Better together,

Scott Ridout

    Point - September 2018

    Point Magazine

    Our official magazine, publishing captivating stories of God's work in our midst.

    Subscribe for free >